Horror is a genre that audiences just can’t get enough of. There’s something about being frightened that, as human beings, we feel compelled to seek out as often as possible. At times it is the most visceral, emotion-inducing genre out there, so it’s no surprise that horror movies never seem to die out. The theaters certainly enjoy their presence with horror being regarded as the most profitable genre in comparison to the film’s budgets. Time and time again we’ve seen low and micro-budget horror films make hundreds of millions at the box office, such as with “Saw” (James Wan, 2004) which made $130 million on a budget of a mere $1.2 million.
However, there is a massive discrepancy in the critical reaction and the general quality of these movies in spite of their seemingly bankable box office appeal. For every great horror film out there, there are far more average to bad to terrible horror films that often give critics and audiences a negative view of the genre. But these lower-quality films will continue being made for the simple reason that a lot of them make money. It seems that audiences aren’t too picky with quality when we go see horror films at the theater or stream them online (I know it’s true for me); we just can’t get enough!
Then there’s a tragic third category, the subject of this list. The great horror movies of recent years that somehow slipped through the cracks either through poor advertising, strong competition, or just bad luck. It’s these great films that virtually no one saw that deserve more attention from both fans of the genre and general audiences alike. These are the great recent horror movies you’ve probably never seen.
1. We Are Still Here (Ted Geoghegan, 2015)
A low-budget independent horror film that pays homage to influences from the haunted house movies of the ‘50s and ‘60s all the way to the Italian horror movies of the ‘80s, “We Are Still Here” is a chilling movie that oozes atmosphere from its very core.
It starts by following an established convention of the horror genre: a grieving middle-age couple, Anne and Paul Sachetti, move into an isolated house in the country in order to try and move on from the past. But as strange, paranormal events start to occur, and the town’s strange inhabitants take more and more interest in them, they begin to realise that they may have made a mistake.
Where to start with the praise for this film? It’s one of those rare films where everything just seems to come together to create an inspiringly good horror film.
Let’s begin with the direction. Geoghegan handles this film with a subtle and delicate touch that brings out so much of the disturbing atmosphere throughout this film. All throughout, he maintains tension through his choices of shots that often pull us intimately close with the horror we are witnessing, making for a tight, oppressive tone that carries throughout the movie.
The cast are also incredibly suited to their roles. Anne and Paul are played with restraint that other actors may have botched, which brings emotion and credibility to both of them and the wider story. The narrative is evenly paced within the somewhat short (1 hour 20 minutes) run time, meaning that there is hardly a dull moment. And for a low-budget indie picture, the special effects for the “guests” in the house are absolutely stunning using mainly practical effects that rival those of most Hollywood feature films.
If you’re a fan of directors such as Lucio Fulci, then you’re in for a treat through many subtle homages throughout the film. For restrained horror, seek this film out immediately.
2. Late Phases (Adrián García Bogliano, 2014)
This American-Mexican co-production is so seething in its originality and pitch-perfect execution that it’s a wonder it’s not a household name; a film that brings the most out of the werewolf sub-genre.
Check this out for a premise: after moving into a retirement community, Vietnam vet Ambrose (the great Nick Damici) soon finds himself under attack from werewolves. He takes it upon himself to rid the community of this threat and prepares himself for one final war.
Narrative is often not the strongest component of the horror genre, but this film disputes that claim entirely. Driven by its incredibly complex, unique, and believable main character facing the twilight years of his once fiercely independent life, the story of this film is one that works on several levels, achieving all of them greatly.
Damici is of course one of the genre’s most underrated actors, having wowed audiences through his performance in “Stake Land” (Jim Mickle, 2010) and he brings so much power and nuance to this performance that it’s truly stunning. He also manages to convince us of the character’s blindness without being over the top or overplayed.
The werewolf costumes and makeup are simply stunning and showcased to perfection in a climactic transformation scene where we finally see the creature in all its glory, and all presented in what appears to be a single continuous take. It’s after this scene where film really kicks into high gear as Ambrose faces the werewolves in a Rambo-like final stand, utilising improvised traps in a stunning set piece that reflects the film’s highly talented cast and crew.
If you missed this one upon release, do yourself a favour and get ahold of it now, particularly if you enjoy werewolf films in general. This one packs a strong bite.
3. Bone Tomahawk (S. Craig Zahler, 2015)
The western has long been considered more or less dead for many years now with only the occasional great entry appearing from time to time. But to combine that with horror and a first-time director producing a fantastically unique and frightening film? That’s an achievement.
The plot concerns a small town that is visited by feral cave dwellers known as troglodytes who kidnap and murder several of the townsfolk. A few men set out on a rescue mission including: Foreman Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) whose wife has been taken and whose leg is in plaster; Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell); Deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins); and Brooder (Matthew Fox), an ex-Indian hunter.
The cast list there speaks for itself and they are all just as impressive as you would expect. Their characters interact with one another in interesting and unique ways, with each offering a different, wildly contrasting approach to situations.
The cinematography is somehow both incredibly beautiful, when we are seeing shots of the desert landscape framed in wide and captured in their entirety, and extremely effective in highlighting the shockingly brutal moments that occur during the film thick and fast, giving no time for the audience to breathe.
The descent into the primal recesses of humanity and the debate the film carries of civilised versus uncivilised make for extremely compelling viewing. The characters have to work hard for every foot of their progress, which is reflective of the fantastic writing courtesy of Zahler himself. Once again, we’re treated to disgustingly brilliant special effects that make the horror of this disturbing film hit home with full force.
Unfortunately, this film only opened to a limited release pattern, which is why so many missed it at the cinema. I remember being hyped for the film only to have no cinema near me play it. Do yourselves a favour and grab this film however you can, it’s not one to be missed!
4. The Belko Experiment (Greg McLean, 2016)
So far on this list we’ve had plenty of threats: ghosts, werewolves, and troglodytes, but now it’s time to look at a film which uses a more realistic threat: capitalism and your work colleagues. What’s scarier than that?
This film follows 80 employees of Belko Industries who find their building completely locked down with escape impossible. Things are then mixed up when everyone is told that they will have to kill each other in order to escape. Some take this better than others, and the chaos ensues until just one person remains.
A clear commentary on the fickle relationships of the workplace and the corporate approach to treating employees as numbers or statistics rather than people, this film is filled to the brim with subtle snarky humour and satirical allusions.
Not one to restrain on the gore, “The Belko Experiment” is extremely creative in the manner in which it dispatches its characters, which keeps the film sickeningly fun and enticing throughout. It’s no surprise bearing in mind it was written by “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) director James Gunn, who is well known for his sharp sense of humour. As is the film’s director Greg McLean, who proved his own capabilities within the genre with his breakout film “Wolf Creek” (2005) a similarly disturbing horror entry.
The less serious tone is a sure benefit to this very entertaining movie and features some familiar faces from film and TV, including Tarzan himself Tony Goldwyn and “Scrubs” star John C. McGinley.
While not as serious or scary as most of the other films on this list, this film remains a wildly entertaining and smart entry in the genre that is sure to delight fans.
5. The Ritual (David Bruckner, 2017)
The woods are generally a very creepy setting for horror films and it’s pretty clear why they work so well. Labyrinthine, full of shadows, and impossible to locate yourself, particularly at night with shadows all around. It’s easy to get scared in the woods even when there’s nothing to be afraid of. But in this film, there definitely is something to be afraid of within the woods.
In order to get over the loss of one of their friends, four guys go on a hike in the woods of Sweden in an effort to collectively work through their grief. While venturing through the woods, however, they start to see vile, creepy disturbances such as strange markings and mutilated animals. They soon get the feeling that something is watching them, hunting them. But what is the strange creature that lurks in the woods?
Utilising Norse mythology for the basis of the story makes for an intriguing hook and opens up a world of possibilities that this film utilises to full effect. Whilst trying to avoid spoilers, it must be said that the creature within is truly terrifying and bizarre in appearance, but used so sparingly and effectively throughout the film to great effect.
Like many horror films, the subtext is all about the contamination grief and guilt can have in our lives, poisoning everything we get involved in, just as it does for the characters in this film. Talented British actor Rafe Spall plays the lead with conviction and humanity, making us root for the character’s struggle and survival throughout the film. It’s also the rare example of a horror that rejects ‘final girl’ theory, having a male being the last one standing.
This film can be found on Netflix and is well worth a watch, particularly if you let yourself get lost in the film’s mythological lore and involving narrative.